Michael Hutchinson’s Specialized Shiv: Pro bike

The gleaming machine is suspended on wires in the Cycling Weekly photo studio’s white cove like a hi-tech, two wheeled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Its pilot, Michael Hutchinson, standing below, begins to tell its story. “It’s the triathlon version with the nose cone which is structural, but the UCI didn’t like the idea of putting two 3:1 elements behind each other to make a 6:1 element,” he explains. “The brakes are actually attached to the nose cone. Essentially the whole thing is a stem.

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Despite that, the UCI didn’t like it. But, it’s CTT and triathlon legal. It’s a slightly faster bike than the team [Saxo Bank, HTC] one. The team one has a different down tube and a different fork and a different stem obviously.”

What was Hutchinson’s first impression of the Shiv, the bike that was famously developed especially for Fabian Cancellara?
“I started the year on an ex-team bike, Jens Voigt’s old bike, and then switched to this, which is not a prototype but a production bike,” he says. “I’ve ridden a few prototypes and production bikes and I have to say I can’t tell much difference between them, so you can genuinely say this performs like a team bike.

“It’s very, very stiff, which is nice, because I think they designed it to be as stiff as the road bike and it is. It is clearly harder to make a TT bike that stiff because of the back end – the lack of chainstay bridges and things like that. It’s a very sure-feeling bike. It handles a little better than the Transition – in terms of ride feel it’s nicer. Is it lighter? I don’t know – I haven’t weighed them. There’s an awful lot of material around. I really don’t know how much it weighs and I don’t know how much the Transition weighed.”

Later we weigh the bike and it comes out at 18.67lb with Speedplay pedals – Hutchinson simply shrugs.

First miles
How easy was it for Hutchinson to achieve his TT position?
“First of all I started with the Specialized bar, the one that they supply with the bike, and then switched to the new USE bar – and this is the first production example of it. The Shiv is less adjustable [than a ‘normal’ bike] – you can’t just change the stem, or get a different angle – but on the other hand you can achieve anything, it just takes a bit more effort.

“We changed the position last year for the Commonwealths and I quite liked it – I came back to a flatter forearms position and it felt pretty good so I’ve left it like that for the moment. It just felt quite powerful, but whether it’s quicker or not, it’s hard to say. In the Drag2Zero wind tunnel just before the National 10 we just made minor tweaks but the position stayed very much the same. We dropped the position at the front by 10mm.

“If I went even lower at the front it would probably be even faster, but having spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel time I know that it’s all about a compromise between aerodynamics and power. Ruling something out as a possible improvement is equally important.”

“Usability of data is also important,” Hutchinson emphasises. “You need to go in with someone who understands the demands of the sport. [Former F1 aerodynamicist] Simon Smart has a huge advantage in that he’s worked with an awful lot of people – coaches, physiologists – who can provide a balance.

“Aerodynamics is really incredibly difficult,” Hutchinson muses. “The thing about aerodynamics is all sorts of things react with each other. The most important thing is that there seems to be a whole system. If you change one thing then that changes something else. Sometimes you change one thing and think that’s an improvement, but actually it’s changed something entirely different.

“Guessing aerodynamics is very hard. Far harder than we used to think it was. The more work you do in wind tunnels the more you realise that very small changes to the set-up can make a hell of a difference. I heard of one guy who was in the tunnel and one of the things they did was move his saddle by 7mm [fore-aft] and that took something like two seconds a mile off. It had to do with what that did to his back – whether it made it curved or flatter I don’t know.

“Your torso is the biggest thing affecting drag. You’ve got I think 35 newtons of drag from the rider and five newtons from the bike. OK, there’s a limit to what you can do with the shape of your torso, but if you do change the position of it you’ve got to expect it to make a difference.”

All the gears
As if he suddenly decides he has said enough, Hutchinson turns back towards the bike and says: “Anyway, let’s talk about the rear mech. It’s has a Wolfgang Berner cage. Lance Armstrong used one in the Tour de France last year. I think the UCI had a 3:1 objection to it despite the fact that they said the 3:1 rule didn’t apply to gears, even though it’s structural – the jockey wheels are attached to it. They are 17t and 15t I think.”

How did Hutchinson get hold of it – was it pro team hand-me-down? “We, er, bought it?” he says slowly, as if introducing a radical new concept. “Jamie [Pringle, Hutchinson’s coach] just produced it. It was for the Commonwealths, then of course the Commonwealths were under UCI rules so we slightly fumbled that and actually used a different mech, but since we now had the Berner mech, we thought we would put it on this year.

“Actually it’s quite a trick bike,” Hutchinson concedes. “It’s nice to go to races feeling that you’re riding something that is pretty much as good as it can be, and I’d be hard pressed to think how I would improve it – which is a nice position to be in.

What’s the story with the rest of the groupset?
“There isn’t a groupset as such – the only bits really are the shifters and the gears because obviously the brakes are Specialized; the hubs are HED; the chainset is SRM, the BB is an ancient creaky FSA that I’ve had on every bike I’ve ridden for the last three years – and I think I had to pay for it,” he says with mock bitterness. “The SRAM shifters are not the R2C ones. One of the Transitions I had a couple of years ago came as a fully built up bike and that’s where most of the groupset bits came from.”

Thumping tubs
“It’s got Dugast tubs on – front 20mm, rear 22mm. The rear wheel [HED Stinger disc] has a wider rim so you have to run a 22 and that tub comes up closer to a 23. The narrower one works well on the front, the way the brakes line up with fork. I have to pay for them – Dugast make tubs for a hell of a lot of pros and if they started giving them away to people like me they would be giving away an awful amount of tubs.

“It’s a 55t big ring – with 172.5mm cranks. I honestly don’t think crank length is important,” Hutchinson says with a twinkle, as if to stoke another web forum heated debate. “My saddle height is 765mm. I really don’t think 2.5mm [ie with your rear higher or lower in the air] makes a lot of difference. Years ago, I had a Lotus 110 and it had an integrated seatpost and the saddle height was 765mm so I thought, that will do me, and that’s the basis for my saddle height for the last however long it has been.”

What will Hutchinson be riding next year – is there a new Shiv on its way to him?
“Next year Specialized won’t be making this particular Shiv,” says Hutchinson. “There will be a new triathlon-specific one with a drinking bladder in the down tube [as well as a UCI-legal one]. Specialized will be supporting me again next year but we haven’t decided what we’re doing yet, though I’m certainly going to need a UCI-legal bike.”

SRAM Red mech with Berner cage

Rear caliper mounted behind the bottom bracket shell

Specialized: Dreamers with deadlines

Michael Hutchinson in action on the Shiv